Berlin Celebrates Online Poll Victory With Big Crowd

Berlin Celebrates Online Poll Victory With Big Crowd
The Berlin Fire Company is pictured concluding Saturday’s parade on Main Street. Photo by Steve Green

BERLIN — Berlin’s “Coolest Small Town” party last Saturday certainly lived up to the hype with thousands cramming into the downtown area for the celebration, and now town officials are hoping the designation provides a springboard to greater growth and development.

Earlier this spring, Berlin was named by Budget Travel magazine as the “Coolest Small Town In America” after a spirited online poll. Roughly 138,000 voters participated in the contest and in the final round Berlin beat out 14 other small towns around the country, garnering 39,000 votes, or 28 percent. A party was planned last month to celebrate the accomplishment, but was postponed due to inclement weather.

The party was finally held last Saturday, in conjunction with several other events including the annual Little League parade and opening day, a 5K race earlier in the morning and the Beach Lacrosse games. By Saturday afternoon, an estimated 2,500 revelers had crammed into the downtown area.

The event held on a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon went off without a hitch and was widely regaled as one of the most successful events ever in Berlin, which has become accustomed to throwing parties and hosting special events. During the Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, town officials declared it a success from all angles.

“We need to give a big shout out to all of the town’s departments,” said Economic Development Director Michael Day. “This was probably one of the biggest events we’ve ever had.” Mayor Gee Williams also praised the effort on the part of the town’s residents and staff members for first securing the designation and then throwing a perfect party to celebrate it. Williams said he hoped the award could be the catalyst for continuing to move Berlin forward in the future.

“All associated with this from the employees and staff to the residents and visitors participated in making last Saturday a huge success,” he said. “All of these things didn’t happen overnight, and we have to make sure we recognize those who laid the groundwork before us. We’ve had a lot of fun with this designation and the hope is it brings continued commercial growth to keep that momentum going.”

Williams said the designation will and has already opened doors and drawn a lot of attention to the town.

“We need to focus on all of the opportunities that this presents to us,” he said. “We need to make a decision and then implement a strategic planning session effort. A lot of good things are happening and it appears to be accelerating. People want to move here and start businesses here.”

At the same time, Williams said town officials and everyone involved had to be cognizant of the things that make Berlin so “cool” in the first place.

“We need to give everybody a chance to absorb what has happened and figure out where we go from here,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants us to become a big town, but be the best small town we can possibly be.”

Essentially, the mayor encouraged enthusiasm and optimism tempered with common sense going forward.

“All are very happy and we celebrated in a very appropriate way,” he said. “This will impact everything we do going forward. Everyone is a little overwhelmed by what’s happened in the last month. Let’s enjoy it, but let’s make sure we understand the implications of this as we move forward.”

Councilman Dean Burrell said he didn’t entirely embrace the pursuit of the designation at first, but later got caught up in the enthusiasm.

“I think we need to thank Mike Day for his vision in this ‘coolest town’ thing,” he said. “I have to admit I was always a little skeptical, but what would really be cool is having Berlin named the coolest small town in America two years in a row.”

Council Vice President Elroy Brittingham said the coolest town victory and subsequent celebration continues a positive trend for Berlin and recalled a time of stagnant growth and near abandonment in the town.

“I’ve never seen that many people in Berlin,” said Brittingham. “I worked in downtown Berlin for many years and spent a lot of lonely Friday nights on Main Street.”

Councilwoman Paula Lynch said she was surprised at the town’s quick recovery from Saturday’s party and praised the public works crews for the turnaround.

“By Sunday, the town was remarkable,” she said. “Less than 12 hours later, the town looked like nothing ever happened after a hosting a party for 2,500 or more.”

Day said one of the issues raised during the event was the need for a more efficient transportation system from the satellite parking areas.

“Berlin Intermediate School was packed all day,” he said. “We need to explore expanding our shuttle system somehow when we have these large events.”

Day said the designation has led to an invaluable amount of regional, national and even international exposure for Berlin. He said Budget Travel Magazine was planning a large spread covering the town and the award and he had also been contacted by The Baltimore Sun for an interview. Day was also interviewed about the award by the largest Chinese-American newspaper in the country. It was an interview he characterized as humorous because of the language barrier.